on March 7, 2001
Every rock fan knows that Jimi Hendrix's three studio recordings are absolutely essential. But I would argue that Band of Gypsys is just as important to own. This is where you get to hear Jimi cut loose. If you have any doubt of Hendrix's guitar genius, this album will quickly dispell that for you.
First of all, the Experience do not appear in this album. Instead, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox fill in for drums and bass respectively. The two provide Jimi with a much looser, funkier rhythm section than the Experience. As for Jimi, there isn't much to say... All you need to know is that Band of Gypsys contains some of the best guitar work of his career...if not THE best of his career. "Who Knows", and "Power to Love" are two standout tracks. But the masterpiece of the album is the 12 minute anti-war jam "Machine Gun". It's a song that has to be heard to believed. I still remember the first time I heard it....I was floored. The entire album is filled with enough passion and intensity to rival that of John Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard or Live at Birdland.
It is true that there have been hundreds of fantastic guitarists since the death of Jimi Hendrix. Many of them have much more speed and dexterity than Jimi. Still others are university trained and extremely knowledgeable in music theory. But I have yet to hear a guitarist play something as passionate and emotional as "Machine Gun". Band of Gypsys is well worth your money for that song alone.
on June 15, 2000
Imagine hearing this album for the first time on the ear-plug "mono" headphones of a battery operated Panasonic mini reel-to-reel tape recorder. Now imagine that that annoying background noise spoiling the mood is from exploding Viet Cong 122mm rockets while you're hunkered down, cold, hungry, and wet from that incessant goddamn monsoon rain. But you're smiling at every riff 'cause you know Jimi knows what you're thinking. Maybe you're surrounded by living hell, but somehow...THIS MAKES YOU SANE! It's been 30 years since I first "experienced" Band of Gypsies. Nothing else will ever come close to having the same meaning to this old 'Nam vet.
on November 15, 2001
It was almost symbolic that Band of Gypsys was recorded on New Years Eve 1969/70. Jimi Hendrix had recently discarded his power trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and formed the Band of Gypsys with bass-player, Billy Cox and drummer, Buddy Miles. Whereas the Experience exemplified the grinding, baroque, psychedelic rock that largely defined the sixties, the Band of Gypsys exemplified the melodic, groove-heavy, socially and spiritually conscious funk that would largely define the seventies. This live album was the first Hendrix fans heard of the guitarist's new project. Most would not be disappointed. Hendrix's new style nicely sustains the absolutely wicked, inventive guitar-playing from which his reputation was born. His fluid, wavy, hypnotizing jamming scampers through the six tracks, becoming slightly overdone on the nine-minute "Who Knows" and the thirteen-minute "Machine Gun." Still, small sections of unstructured noodling can not stop "Who Knows" from excellently setting the album's funky tone or "Machine Gun" from being one of the most intense, dramatic and stunning songs inspired by Vietnam (Only Hendrix had the ingenuity and skill to make his instrument screech like a battlefield). The two other Hendrix-penned tracks, the groove-rocker, "Power to Love" and the fervent "Message to Love" are two of his most spirit-inspiring works and nicely showcase the Gyspsys' rapid-fire arrangements. Buddy Miles does more than keep the band steady with his fast-paced trouncing, he also contributes two excellent foot-stompers, "Changes" and "We Gotta Live Together." Miles himself would go on to become a star of the upcoming funk/soul movement. Hendrix, tragically, would not live to see it. The artist would die of asphyxiation shortly after Band of Gypsys was released. Sadly, for Hendrix, this funkrock showstopper was not a sign of things to come, but a passing of the torch.
on August 21, 2006
That - the title of this review - is what it said on the spine and green Capitol label of the very first copy (and first Henrix album) I ever bought, which was originally released in April 1970 - eighteen long months after the Jimi Hendrix Experience's third and final studio album, "Electric Ladyland." The group was already fracturing by then, though the soldiered on in the studio and on tour through a final US date June 30, 1969, after which a frustrated Noel Redding split for England and Fat Mattress (Reprise collected eight of the group's best known tracks, added four unreleased in the US, and a "giant poster" for "Smash Hits" that July). Many factors and motivations - financial, political, cultural, personal, musical - likely led to the short lived Band Of Gypsys. Jimi had already produced a Buddy Miles solo album and worked with the drummer (noteably on part of "Ladyland"). Billy Cox was an old Army buddy, fine bassist, with no ambitions to write songs - he patiently worked with Hendrix for over a year during 1969 - 70 as the guitarist developed new songs and opened his dream studio, almost until the end (Cox split after being dosed with PCP at one of Hendrix's final Euro dates). And, perhaps symbolically if not intentionally, BOG was an all black band.
1970 was a year in which live albums were in vogue, and recording technology had progressed sufficiently since the mid-60s (recall the Brit Invasion hysteria that dominates "Live Kinks" or the Stones' "Got Live") to make a good live album a desired addition to any important artist's body of work. Reprise issued another live Hendrix set (the Montery Pop album, with one side devoted to Otis Redding) four months after BOG, as Jimi was still finishing up his next - posthumous - studio album, and it had become evident that the studio project was unlikely to be issued before 1971 (even had Hendrix lived). And in 1970 classic live sets came out by the Stones, Who, Cream, Doors, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and others. What was different about "Band Of Gypsys" was that it contained all new material. Buddy Miles possessed none of Mitch Mitchell's inventive, jazz-influenced chops that interacted so perfectly with Hendrix, but he was a solid, funky, visually arresting timekeeper who during the period was pretty famous himself thanks to his tenure with the Electric Flag, and would record fine albums with John McLaughlin and Santana as well as several successful solo sets. BOG was thus also, almost, a supergroup, to use the jargon of the times. If not as essential as the three studio Experience albums, or "Cry Of Love"/"First Rays", Hendrix was hardly marking time here, expanding his songwriting style as well as his sonic arsenal on the classics "Machine Gun" and "Who Knows."
The original album sounded a bit drab, and if the Capitol (1995) cd was an improvement in clarity - not warmth or presence - the more recent Experience Hendrix version is the best we're likely to get on compact disc. But I'm reviewing this to recommend spending a few extra bucks on the numbered limited edition issued by Classic Records after the most recent CD. This gorgeous piece is well worth tracking down. Mastered using all analog transfer equipment from the actual masters by Eddie Kramer and George Marino (their initials etched in the black inner groove of the disc). For Hendrix fans, I promise - it blows the cd and the original vinyl out of the water. Sonically a rather grey recording is now an exciting listening experience: warm, detailed, alive, with an increase in image depth and definition, it actually lives up to the cliche "like hearing it for the first time." And the physical thing itself is a beauty - the heavy cardboard stock used on the cover is thicker and like the disc heavier than the first edition original - to which it is faithful but much superior. (By the way, Classic also issued "Axis" in its rare mono mix, which is not better than the stereo version but an interesting contrast for fanatics).
Lots more funk-influenced, and to over simplify 'social conciousness' lyrics generally supplant both the "Foxy Lady" come ons and the spiritual and cosmic preoccupations of "Ladyland," it's fascinating to hear Hendrix emphasisizing wah-wah funk and singing to women about asserting themselves indepenent of any man. Only on the finale, "We Got To Live Together" is this set anything less than terrific, and side one of course is even better than that.
By the time this album was originally issued, the Band Of Gypsys had dissolved. Hendrix brought Mitch Mitchell back, and kept Cox on, for the next round of tours and recording sessions.
on October 25, 2008
Band of Gypsys was released in the US in 2 CD versions - the first was released in 1995 as the 25th anniversary CD (Capitol 96414 jewel case or the mini-vinyl card version Capitol DPRO 79534). Both contain the same CD as issued under the Alan Douglas control of the Hendrix Estate. In 1997, after the Hendrix family took control of the estate, Experience Hendrix released the Experience Hendrix/Capitol CD release (72434 -93446). The mixes used are the same but they appear to have been remastered from different stereo tapes.
The 25th Anniversary CD issue was sourced from a copy of the master tape, not the original Eddie Kramer-mixed stereo master tape. The original master tape had been marked "Do Not Use" by EMI-Capitol Records (possibly because it was deteriorating while the copy was in good condition), so the copy-master was used for any versions on vinyl after the initial green label Capitol version and the 25th Anniversary edition CD. They sound like it - obvious bass and vocal distortion abounds (especially in Who Knows), along with very slight treble phase shift.
The new version by EH/Eddie Kramer uses the "Do Not Use" tape (the original stereo master) and sounds much better than the Douglas version. The bass is excellent now and the treble and vocals are much clearer. The uneven fade up of the original Bill Graham introduction has been changed to a drop-in, and Eddie Kramer mentioned in an interview with Michael Fremer in Stereophile that some tape splices were retrimmed. A minor caveat is the appearance of occasional soft crackling noises on the new release (e.g. at about 5 and 11 secs into Machine Gun in the left channel). I seem to remember these on the original 1970 Capitol (green label) vinyl (STAO 472 - released in April 1970), and bought several copies thinking - wrongly as it turns out - that they were pressing faults. These noises weren't present on the Australian Polydor vinyl release (2406-002), nor later Capitol (purple or red label) pressings. The copy-master, therefore, appears to have been used for most versions of Band of Gypsys beyond the original US issue, despite its inferior sound. I guess the crackling noises on the original Capitol vinyl release and the EH/Capitol release are sounds caused by the original master tape deteriorating.
on April 10, 2000
My eyes actually started to tear up when I first heard the solo on Machine gun - it's the best guitar work ever recorded, period.
on February 6, 2006
There is a common debate amongst Hendrix fans. Which is better? Is it The Jimi Hendrix Experience or is it The Band of Gypsies? I have listened to both extensively and my answer is yes. They are both mind blowing. However I must say that I prefer the Gypsies. Here's why: The Experience is a looser and more pyschedelic sound. The gypsies are tighter, funkier and the sound is more grounded. As I said I love both. However the difference for me is in the chemistry of the players. If you listen to the music you will notice a definite difference in the bass players. Noel Redding's bass is not very distinct on the Experience albums whereas Billy Cox is out in front with Jimi, jamming with him note for note. As far as the drumming goes, my ears reveal that Mitch Mitchell with his jazz leanings is a more accomplished drummer than then earthy, stompy playing of Buddy Miles. However, Mitch Mitchell is the only drummer to have played with both bass players. Although I feel that Mitchell is the superior drummer it is clear that he doesn't lock into Billy's bass playing nearly as well. So the overall chemistry is better with the gypsies. Plus with Buddy Miles you get the addition of some real soulful lead and back up vocals.
Pick up this album and Live At The Fillmore East and you will hear for yourself. "Who Knows" opens the album with an infectious funk groove on which Jimi solos with ease. "Machine Gun" follows and is arguably Jimi's greatest musical accomplishment. "Machine Gun" is the best anti war song ever written. Both its lyrics and its musical performance paint a haunting picture of the realities of war. It is a brilliant and breathtaking performance.
Buddy Miles contributes his hit "Changes," to the album. The tune features a classic Jimi riff. "Power of Soul" and "Message to Love," are great Hendrix penned slow songs that showcase Jimi's virtuosity, the funky rhythm section, and the soulful vocal performances that this group was capable of.
Unfortunately the last tune is cut off, you can get the full version complete with the "Voodoo Child" lead in on Fillmore East.
All in all this is a classic in Jimi's catalog and gives an idea into what might have been.
on September 25, 1998
Hendrix takes a major detour with the Band of Gypsys with performances which must have stunned and enthralled those who saw it live! And almost 30 years later, the music is still alive and well. This album has it all, funk, rock, blues, and jazz....and a rhythm section in Buddy Miles and Billy Cox that really makes it happen....Each of the songs is truly unique, masterful in structure and presentation (talk about improvization). Machine Gun will always be a brilliant work of guitar artistry and emotion (and the "war" still rages on today)....Who Knows welcomes you to the new Jimi, Them Changes is the definitive version, Power of Soul rockets you into space funk, and We Gotta Live Together closes it all in the only way possible. But for me, a Message of Love is the most intense piece in its musical texture and movement and its lyrical message of equality (for women) which was (and is) truly cutting edge (and probably missed by many)! From start to finish, this one captures it all. By the end, you've certainly taken a "run with" Jimi. Any Hendrix fan should have this work in the collection (regardless of Jimi's take on the whole affair). It's a "must have" for any musician. And whether you're a bassist, drummer, or guitarist, if you really want to play "Jimi", learn to play this! ...have you ever been "Experienced", well I have!!!
on August 23, 2005
Let me start by saying that I consider this album a must have for not only Jimi Hendrix fans, but rock music lovers. Though you might still find a few people that will contest Jimi's creative greatness and influence, you won't find many and this remarkable album illustrates why. I have often believed that truly great artists exhibit a common quality. Not only do they create and introduce us to new sounds, sights, and feelings, but they do it again and again, evolving through one new paradigm after another. Jimi was this and more. He was the fountain head of so much of what we have found in music since the 1960's. If you listen to the unfortunately scant catalog of albums actually released during his life in chronological order, you will hear an incredible evolution of styles, each of which had never been heard before and each of which has been embraced and emulated by band after band ever since. Whole careers have been built around emulating just one of Jimi's many sounds (e.g., Robin Trower).
Then, just as The Experience starts fades away, leaving us with a legacy that by any standard would still merit greatness, Jimi blasts his way through Woodstock with new band mates, finally landing on his feet with The Band of Gypsys. Thus we are introduced to yet another new and amazing sound, one that unfortunately did not have nearly enough time to grow and flourish. I believe The Band of Gypsys created a sound that has not been heard again since. I hear many reviewers talk about the "funk" of this album, and to be honest, I am a little mystified by this. To me characterizing this album as funk rock is like characterizing the Album Brothers as a garage band. The music on this album is beyond funk, beyond rock, beyond blues, and, in fact, beyond anything we had heard before or have heard since. 30 seconds of "Who Knows" and you will know what I am talking about. What this music represented was the next great step in the evolution of rock music, taking elements of blues, acid rock, jazz, and funk (with less funk than any other element I would say), mixing them with something that was uniquely Jimi, and fusing all this into a new art form. Yes, for me this album is THAT powerful.
Band of Gypsys represents a path in musical evolution that was hijacked by the music industry so they could return us to to the pre-packaged, demographically driven crap that filled the void between the great era of the swing band and the emergence of true rock and roll, when the studios told the musicians what to play and how to play it. With the light of Jimi and a few other key artists gone, the music industry took us right back into the abyss courtesy of the the plastic world of disco. Then they led us by our wallets right into into the modern era of the "focus-group-tested" pablum of the Back Street Boys and Brittany Spears. Once again, the "suits" and not the artists control the content which means creativity is dead. Long live AOR. (Hip hop was a brief exception to this, but, honestly, I am not a hip hop fan and even hip hop is losing it's luster as a creative art form as the studios package it more and more).
Band of Gypsys was the evolutionary path music SHOULD have followed but didn't because the strain of trying to carry us to better place ultimately destroyed it's leaders. I hope you are in a better place now, Jimi, because every time I listen to your music, I know I am.
If you really love creative music and freedom of musical expression buy this album. You will not regret it. What you will regret is that no one is making this kind of music anymore.
on April 16, 2006
This album and the grouping of Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, and Billy Cox have been analyzed a million times. And for good reason. I will do my best to add one more voice to the chorus.
I have been listening to this on album, scratches, skips and all, for seemingly a lifetime. However, once I purchased the remastered CD.... Wow. You can't probably afford to replace every album with the CD reissue. However this is one that is worth it. And if you have never heard the recording, then I highly recommend it.
I have listened to countless hours of rock guitar playing. Especially acid rock. I love listening to Jerry Garcia, early Jorma Kaukonen, what little I could find of James Hurley. And of course there were the standard rock guitar greats such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and the names would go on and on.
Somehow, it just seems that while each would bring their own style and technique to the listening world, Jimi Hendrix stands in a class of his own. I used to think he got his skill at the crossroads. However, a more likely explanation is that he just practiced more than everyone else. It is said that he carried his guitar around and practiced constantly day and night. But there is even more to it than that.
Very rarely a musician will come along who will merge different genres of music into a unique blend. Like Miles Davis did with fusion jazz. Two others to me are Jerry Garcia and Bill Monroe.
Here on the Band of Gypsys recording, can be heard elements of acid rock, but mixed with blues, soul, jazz, and something that I can only describe as coming from outside our known cosmos. It is ironic that Jimi was forced to do this group and recording by some contractual obligations. It shows the class of the man, despite his shortcomings of judgment in the realm of choosing recreational drugs, that he chose to make the best of the situation. And did he ever. It would seem that he decided to just stand there on stage and put all his energy into some really intospective music of great style and pure musicality.
I know reviews are full of hyperbole, including my own, but I really think this recording is just about the pinnacle of rock guitar playing. And it is truly a phenomenon. You could play the same guitar solos and rhythm note for note, yet fail to capture the same magic. Jimi is simply in a class of his own. I just simply love the great combination of wah-wah pedal, whammy bar, feedback galore, power rhythms, screaming rapid-fire guitar playing. What a tragedy that he had to go from us within a year of this recording. And did he foresee it or what, with his comment that he might see those in the audience again, if he would make it through the summer.
But on to the music itself. Machine Gun. Need I say more? This song blows my mind every time I listen to it. Who Knows and Them Changes are also absolutely superb. While all I have talked about is guitar playing, I also like the singing, the songwriting, the bass guitar. Heck, I even like Buddy Miles' drumming! Maybe the guy was accused of having an overrated opinion of himself. But I like listening to him here. Comparisons of Billy Cox to Noel Redding? I'll leave that to someone else. All the songs are written by Jimi or Buddy, and I think every one is excellent.
Back to Machine Gun. When the guitar really rocks the most, it makes me feel like I am in battle in Vietnam, shooting a machine gun at someone else who was ordered to shoot a machine gun at me. Then later the song gets very quiet, and Jimi goes off into a dreamy solo that makes me feel like I have died and my soul is floating off to a place that souls go after death. If you are not driving, try closing your eyes and listening to this song. Preferably turned up loud on a great stereo. You will find yourself being transported somewhere. That is where the true genius of Jimi Hendrix shines. He can use music to transport you to somewhere else. Like his soul is reaching out to your soul. Does it sound like a religious experience? Pretty darn close, for just listening to some music.
If you like great rock and blues guitar playing on electric guitar, you must buy this CD. It just doesn't get any better.